Friday, November 19, 2010

Chandler (1971)

So miscast that his unique screen persona is suffocated, roughly made and distinctly Southern everyman Warren Oates stars as a modern-day private dick in Chandler, a lesser entry in the seemingly endless series of ’70s thrillers paying homage to classic film noir. Directed and co-written by Paul Magwood, who for obvious reasons never made another movie, Chandler features many of the usual private-investigator tropes, but sluggish pacing and an incoherent storyline make it almost unwatchable. On the plus side, the movie looks good and features several colorful actors (Leslie Caron, Scatman Crothers, Gloria Grahame, Mitchell Ryan). Additionally, the leisurely camerawork provides lingering looks at such Los Angeles landmarks as Olvera Street and Union Station circa the early ’70s, but you know a movie is in trouble when the scenery is more interesting than the story. The inconsequential plot is the usual gobbledygook about a tough gumshoe falling for the dame he’s supposed to observe, and many of the film’s scenes are so casual—like Oates’ chatty introduction to Caron on a train bound for Monterey—that it feels like the filmmakers shot the actors hanging out on set instead of performing dramatic scenes. Even with this loose storytelling approach, Chandler manages to make the experience of watching Oates boring, which is quite an accomplishment given his eccentric dynamism, and suffice to say nothing sparks between him and Caron, who seems like she’s from a different universe. Apparently gallons of bad blood were spilled after filming ended: The movie was re-edited without the director’s participation, so huge chunks of story were excised; the first composer was fired and a new score was installed; and Caron sued to get her name over the title. It’s possible a good movie was buried inside the raw material, but the version that survives is confusing and dull, of interest only to noir nuts and Oates obsessives.

Chandler: LAME

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